Portraits of Modern Evil | The HotBed EnsembleLeft - Brendan Ewing, Ben Russell and Amanda Woodhams. Cover - Amanda Woodhams, Jo Morris, Anita Erceg & Ben Russell. Photo - Gary Marsh

Robert Reid is a well known name in Melbourne, as Artistic Director, co founder and playwright of Theatre in Decay. It is marvelous to see Black Swan taking the leap to produce one of his plays here in Perth. And The HotBed ensemble is the perfect vehicle with which to do so. Portraits of Modern Evil is a brilliantly dark look at society during war.

Reid effectively uses words to paint a dim, dark disjointed Melbourne at the height of World War Two. Portraits of Modern Evil revolves around two real men, painter Albert Tucker and American Marine Eddie Leonski, also known as the “brown out killer”. History shows that they were in Melbourne at the same time, and this story is about their fictional meetings.

It is a disjointed play. There are interludes where characters speak from the corners, painting with words the feel and look of the city and characters. It is easy to get lost in these moments.  The story itself is also hard to keep track of, due to multiple flashback scenes. Even the use of time titles on the projections doesn’t help much. In the end however, these were less important to keep track of, as it all added up to a slightly disturbing, thought provoking portrayal of people.

Set designer Brad Reid had a feast of images by Tucker to inspire him in his design. The perspective set in grey worked equally well as an outside street or inside Tucker’s shed. Double white scrims with a walkway on either side of the main set were effectively used to project images, created by Sohan Ariel Hayes.

Sound designer Kingsley Reeve excels in the use of a constant, almost subliminal soundtrack.  He uses sound to create the atmosphere, using layers of sounds that most of the audience aren’t aware of, but can feel. Here, it was most effectively used during scenes with Eddie. Listening hard, I realised that what I was hearing, creating a heightened sense of discomfort, was fast military drumming; a precise, never ceasing rhythm.

Comprising of six actors; Anita Erceg, Brendan Ewing, Jo Morris, Thomas Papathanassiou, Ben Russell and Amanda Woodhams, The HotBed ensemble excelled in their earlier production of Brecht’s Chalk Circle. Here, they were equally impressive, embodying the various war time characters with distinction.

As Eddie Leonski, Ben Russell was outstanding as the young, good looking marine. At the beginning, contrasted to the stilted character of Tucker (Brendan Ewing) Eddie was almost likeable. At some point though, the vibe of his character switched, and revealed the sadistic, crazy killer. By the end, I found myself looking at Eddie with faint repulsion and tension. I came out of the play out of joint and tense, thinking about the depressing portrayal of human life and war that I had just witnessed.

Although tame compared to TV, the violence and speed of Eddie’s killing made the audience jump. Both Amanda Woodhams and Jo Morris played the flighty, flirty girls with panache, and then died incredibly realistically.

As Tucker, Ewing was tough to watch. The character was hard to understand at the beginning, although through the use of flashbacks his temperament and condition became clear. Tucker was stilted and often silent, and here Reid and Director Adam Mitchell are to be congratulated for created realistic dialogue and scenes. Despite being hard to watch, it is hard to fault Ewing for his portrayal.  He has what many performers lack, a real presence that you want to watch regardless of character faults.

These are faces and names to keep an eye on, the next generation of well trained, adaptable and talented stars. Robert Reid’s Portraits of Modern Evil is excellent contemporary, theatre. Confronting, thought provoking and full of talent – all that good theatre should be.

Black Swan Theatre Company presents The HotBed Ensemble
Portraits of Modern Evil
By Robert Reid

Venue: Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA)
Season: 4 – 20 September 2008
Duration: Approximately 95 minutes (no interval)
Tickets*: Standard $20 / Concession & Students $15
Bookings: BOCS Ticketing (08) 9484 1133 or www.bocsticketing.com.au
More Information: www.bstc.com.au

Please note that Portraits of Modern Evil may contain partial nudity, infrequent mild profanity and smoking.

*BOCS transaction fees may apply.

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